Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
July 1, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
WORLD FOOD PROGRAM/SYRIA/REGION
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
2:04 p.m. EDT
MR KIRBY: Thanks for coming, everybody. I've got a couple of things at the top, and then we'll get started.
Just an update on the EU-coordinated P5+1 talks in Vienna. As you know, they continue. The Secretary met today with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif again, and our whole team of experts continues to meet with their counterparts to work on drafting the final technical – the technical details of a final deal. Sorry. This includes meetings that the Secretary of Energy Moniz has been having as well with his Iranian counterpart, and I won't have any more updates on that.
I think you saw Secretary Kerry had a couple of comments this afternoon after he spoke about our diplomatic relations with Cuba where he talked about the work that's going on and how hard everybody continues to work.
On Egypt, the United States strongly condemns today's terrorist attacks in Egypt's North Sinai Governorate, in which dozens of Egyptian soldiers were killed and others wounded. We express our sincere condolences to the victims, their families, and the government and the people of Egypt. These attacks come as Egypt is mourning the assassination of its public prosecutor Hisham Barakat on Monday. The perpetrators of these cowardly crimes must be brought to justice. The United States remains steadfast in its support of the Egyptian Government's efforts to combat terrorism in Egypt.
And then I'd like to make a statement here about the World Food Program. Today, the World Food Program announced it is making immediate cuts to refugee voucher values to hundreds of thousands of refugees as a result of a shortfall in donations to their operations. As media have reported, in order to extend the amount of time they can maintain overall operations inside Syria and for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, the WFP will halve – that is, cut by half – the value of food vouchers given to Syrian refugees in Lebanon this month. It may also cut all help for 440,000 Syrians in Jordan in August.
These shortfalls will have potentially profound consequences for the nutritional needs of the 6 million Syrians it currently reaches in Syria and throughout the region. It could lead both to increased displacement within Syria and increased social instability in countries hosting refugees.
The United States has contributed nearly $1.2 billion to the World Food Program's operations for the Syria crisis since Fiscal Year 2012 – approximately as much as all other donors combined. We also announced more than $360 million in new U.S. funding to help Syrian – to help Syria – Syrian conflict victims last week. This included food aid and other assistance for international organizations that are providing life-saving assistance to Syrians. This brings the total U.S. Government humanitarian funding for Syria to more than $4 billion since 2011.
Real lives are at stake here. We are exploring additional contributions, but the enormous needs means that all donors urgently need to contribute not only to WFP's operations but to all the operations of humanitarian agencies that help Syrians.
And with that, let's start questions. Ken.
QUESTION: Thanks, John. On Sinai, how much – how credible is the Islamic State group's claimed involvement in that attack? And then secondly, I just want to ask you more broadly about the Administration's counterterrorism policy. There have been a lot of criticism of late from former officials. Rosa Brooks, your former colleague, wrote a blistering critique of – saying that U.S. counterterrorism policy is flailing. Mike Flynn, the former DIA chief, has been out there saying there is no policy. And the evidence they cited is the Islamic State is growing in strength; there's an uptick in attacks across the world. Would you dispute that that uptick in attacks is somehow connected to the shortcomings in American counterterrorism policy?
MR KIRBY: Great question. Let me address the first one. I think that's – we know that the Islamic State in Sinai province has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Northern Sinai. It's our belief that this is a group we know as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, ABM, which the United States designated as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2014. I don't think we're in a position now to even, to claim the veracity of their claims of responsibility, but certainly, that's who – this group that claims itself to be IS in the Sinai Province, that's who we believe this is. And obviously, the attack, like the others, are under investigation and we wouldn't want to get ahead of anything that investigators are looking into. But our condolences and thoughts and prayers obviously to the Egyptian – the families of the Egyptian soldiers certainly stand.
On your larger question, just a couple weeks ago we released country reports on terrorism, and it was a pretty candid and forthright report. If you haven't had a chance to go through it, I encourage you to do that. And it makes plain that the lethality of attacks have increased and prevalence in general has increased, certainly, in some parts of the world. I mean, again, it was a very forthright, honest assessment.
And the other point that it made and we've made repeatedly here from the podium is that counterterrorism has to be, it must be a shared responsibility. So – and I'll talk about the United States role here in a second, but the main point I want to make is that this is a challenge, a global challenge that can best be met by partners and allies around the world in more than just kinetic ways – and by kinetic you know I mean we're talking about specific military or security-related options. There are lots of different ways to get at the growth of violent extremism, and you have to consider it all. So it has to be an interagency approach and it has to be an international approach.
I don't think anybody looking back since 9/11 – and if you just look at the last 14 years, I don't think anybody can claim justifiably that the United States hasn't had success against terrorist networks and that – or claimed that we haven't made progress against these networks and their ability to maneuver, to finance, to train, to equip, and to conduct attacks. That doesn't mean, Ken, that there isn't more work to be done. It doesn't mean that offshoots of some groups are now taking root. And it doesn't mean that anybody is turning a blind eye to the danger that ISIL still represents, particularly in the region, Iraq and Syria specifically. And I talked about this yesterday. We know that they're trying to metastasize.
But it has been a concerted focus now for the better part of a decade and a half, and I suspect it will continue to be. What – and we talked about this too – what is the best antidote to the growth of this kind of extremism has to be good governance in the places where the ungoverned spaces where terrorists are able to find safe haven to operate and sustain themselves. And good governance, particularly in a region that is going through so much turmoil, can be a difficult thing to attain.
QUESTION: Is it still the position of the U.S. Government that core al-Qaida is on the path to strategic defeat?
MR KIRBY: We have maintained that core al-Qaida, their leadership, their abilities, their capabilities have been severely degraded and diminished. And as I said, we are also seeing offshoot organizations now coming from them. ISIL is one of those, and there are many, and there many others. But yes, I don't think you can look at core al-Qaida today and describe it in any way near the terms that it was described back in 2001 or the way we talked about it, the way we analyzed it. There's just – there's no comparison to al-Qaida then and al-Qaida now. Again, it doesn't mean that they aren't still a threat. It doesn't mean their offshoots aren't still a threat. It doesn't mean that we're going to turn a blind eye. But I think it's safe to say that, yes, there has been enormous progress made against that group.
QUESTION: Admiral Kirby, can you talk a little bit about Secretary Clinton's emails? The State Department has now told the House Select Committee on Benghazi that you're withholding a small number of documents from investigators because of what is called in a letter "important executive branch institutional interests." Is the State Department invoking executive privilege?
MR KIRBY: There is – what we're doing, Ed, is there are a small number that are being withheld for executive privilege purposes. That is not uncommon. It's not atypical. And I would hasten to add that you need to keep it in perspective compared to the wide swath, just an amazing amount of material that's already been provided to the select committee – 50,000 pages or more of documents, more than 23 witnesses, and we'll continue to provide documents.
QUESTION: But the White House has very rarely invoked executive privilege. You're right that you've turned over a lot of documents in this investigation, but executive privilege is very rarely invoked. So I just want to be clear: So you're saying that executive privilege has been invoked now with respect to the Benghazi committee?
MR KIRBY: A small number of responsive documents are not included in this production because they implicate executive branch institutional interests.
QUESTION: Okay. And how – when you say "small number," under 10, under five --
MR KIRBY: I don't have a number for you, Ed.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you also address, then, on that point, executive privilege on some – there are also emails now that we're being told after the fact have been deemed to be classified in nature. Is that true, and how many emails is --
MR KIRBY: Now we're talking about the tranche that we released last night, so --
MR KIRBY: -- let's make the distinction that this is different and – separate and distinct from --
QUESTION: Okay, and just real quick, executive privilege is being invoked on others that are – what's the differentiation?
MR KIRBY: A small – so yeah, I think you're getting – or maybe I'm getting confused here. You're talking about the select committee's – additional documents that we just provided to the select committee on Benghazi.
MR KIRBY: And there are a small number of responsive documents that we said are not included because they implicate executive branch institutional interests. I don't know the number, but it's small, and you need to keep it in perspective to the 50-some-odd-thousand pages of documents that have already been provided. I mean, so it's – there is a perspective here that's important. That's separate and distinct from, I think, your question about some of the emails that we released last night.
QUESTION: The 3,000 pages.
MR KIRBY: Right. That is part of a separate process, has nothing to do with the select committee's work. It has to do with the court ruling that every month, we need to do a rolling production of these documents, these emails that were turned over by former Secretary Clinton. And I would remind you again about perspective – 55,000 pages of documents were turned over, representing more than 30,000 emails alone. So of the tranche that was just posted last night through the Freedom of Information Act process, there were some 25 emails that were redacted from inclusion because of classification.
QUESTION: And they were deemed classified by the State Department in recent days as you went through it?
MR KIRBY: That's correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, Secretary Clinton was very clear at her news conference in March that she never shared classified information --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- in her personal email. You're now saying that was not true.
MR KIRBY: What I'm saying is that in the review process – and this is not, again, uncommon over time – in the review process, it was deemed that the information, or at least some of the information in that traffic, should be classified. And so it was. That doesn't mean that at the time it was sent it needed to have been classified, or that at the time it was sent it was known that there was a classification attached to it. So again, the last time we released a tranche online, it was the same thing. I don't think it was as many as 25; it was one.
QUESTION: There was one email, as I recall, that the FBI said --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- related to Benghazi, is classified now.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: You're saying this is much more, though; 25 emails.
MR KIRBY: Well, it's 25; it's more than one. But again, keep it in perspective; we turned – we released 3,300 pages of documents last night. We're talking about 25 documents of that thousands of emails that were released last night. So again, you got to keep in perspective. That they are classified now doesn't mean that they should have been classified then, or even if they should have been, that it would have been wrong to send them without knowing that ahead of time. So --
QUESTION: Fair point. But doesn't that point to the fact you've got to be extremely careful when you're in a sensitive position in this government about using personal email? Because on the fly you're not sure if it's classified or not.
MR KIRBY: Well, we all try to be as careful as possible when we send emails on the unclassified side, which I've been doing now for many, many years. You have to try to be cognizant. But it doesn't – it's not uncommon that something that you're sending now on an unclassified network could in later years or later months be deemed to be classified, either because the passage of time made it so, or because events on the ground have borne out, perhaps, the sensitive nature of that traffic that you didn't know was sensitive at the time. So it's really important to understand that just because they're classified now doesn't mean that anybody did anything wrong back in 2009 when they were sent.
QUESTION: Do you know that they did not do anything wrong back then? Have you looked back and deemed whether it --
MR KIRBY: We're not going to --
QUESTION: -- should have been classified back then?
MR KIRBY: There's – I'm not aware of any investigative effort to go back and try to affix blame for that. Again, we're trying to meet the best needs of the Freedom of Information Act now --
MR KIRBY: -- and be as transparent as possible while protecting classified and sensitive --
QUESTION: And I understand you're not going to reveal classified information at the podium, obviously. But can you characterize – 25 emails is still a significant number. Are they about Benghazi, or are they about Russia? What's the topic or what's the --
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I'm not going to go into the actual content, Ed. I think, again, this was a prudent decision made to try to protect sensitive information. And again, just because it's classified now doesn't mean that it – that it was wrong to send it at the time.
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. And last thing: Can you talk about the State Department's rules in terms of outside advisors like Sidney Blumenthal? What are the rules of the road for somebody outside who's not on the payroll here, who doesn't go through the security clearances, it appears, wasn't vetted, sharing maybe not classified but sensitive information with the Secretary of State, other officials here? What are the rules?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, back to my answer before, we all need to be careful when we're operating on an unclassified network. I mean, it's – and we're all trained to do that. When you work for the government, it's ingrained in your training and your preparation to be as careful as you can. There's a limit sometimes to what you can do by being a receiver of information. If you received something that you know is classified, you're supposed to make note of it and treat it appropriately, so there's rules on how to handle. We all have rules that we have to – in fact, you have to go through periodic training to how to handle classified or sensitive information on our unclassified network. So yes, there's procedures and policies in place, and again, everybody needs to be careful.
I think it's also important to note that certainly when you're a senior leader in this town, you're, just by dint of being in the position you're going to be in, you're going to be in receipt of all kinds of advice and counsel from people that are not on your staff. I mean, whether you solicit it or not, in this town it's inevitable. Lots of people have opinions and lots of people want to share that.
QUESTION: But in this case, it appears Secretary Clinton did solicit some of it?
MR KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to speak to Mrs. Clinton's relationship with Mr. Blumenthal. I'm just making a broad case that it is not uncommon, again, and not atypical for people outside one's staff to provide advice and counsel and thoughts and guidance. It happens all over this town.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: John, just to follow up on that, is it the case perhaps that some of these emails that we're not seeing were just – is it that they were completely redacted or are we going to see some that have just been removed completely? So are the ones that were released yesterday – are there some that have been removed entirely or some that have just been redacted?
MR KIRBY: I haven't gone through the whole inventory myself, Lesley. My understanding is that the redactions are partial, by and large. I can't rule out the fact that there may be an entire email that might have been redacted. I'd have to go back and look at the inventory. But if so – and the redactions, I think, if you've looked at them --
MR KIRBY: -- they're judiciously done. It's not – and it was done in a very educated, measured, deliberate way to protect against sensitive information, and frankly, that's, as I said yesterday, it's one of the reasons why we were a little late turning the homework in because we wanted make sure we got it right.
QUESTION: Do you – I know it's early days, but do you know when the next batch is going to be released? (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Well, we have another month now to work on it. I can tell you that the staff is – as we speak, they're already working on the next tranche and preparing them and getting them cleared for release. I can't, here on the 1st of July, give you an exact deadline of when we're going to make them public, but we know we've got to do it by the end of the month, and we'll keep everybody informed.
QUESTION: As a former admiral in the U.S. Navy, did you ever send a suspected classified email over unclassified systems, like Gmail or a private account, for instance?
MR KIRBY: I don't remember – I don't remember ever doing that. I mean, again, you try to be as careful as possible. Is it possible that someone could do it inadvertently without realizing it? Sure. And again, there's – to Ed's question, there are procedures in place. When you receive something that you know from the get-go is sensitive and maybe even classified, there's procedures on how to excise it from your unclassified network, and again, we try as best we can not to do that.
QUESTION: So would you say it's ill-advised to ever be sending information that could be classified over an unclassified system?
MR KIRBY: Of course, it is. You don't ever want to be sharing classified or sensitive material over a network that may not be fully protected for it. But Lucas, that doesn't mean it doesn't happen and it doesn't mean that people don't try to do the right thing when it happens. And sometimes it's just unavoidable. Because of the way email works, you're in receipt of an attachment, for instance, that somebody sends you, and when you open it up you realize, oh, my goodness, what I got here.
QUESTION: But in this case here, we're talking about thousands and thousands of emails, not just one little bit of slippage.
MR KIRBY: Well, we're doing – we're talking thousands of email traffic. And again, I think you need to keep it in perspective the number of emails in this tranche, anyway, that were deemed to have at least partially sensitive or classified material in it – 25 out of thousands. I mean, I think it's important to keep that in perspective. And again, just because it's classified now doesn't mean that it necessarily would've been classified then, and even if it would have been or should have been then doesn't mean that the recipients or the people transmitting the information had the benefit of that knowledge.
QUESTION: Is it the view of this building that the State Department is bothered by Secretary Clinton's relationship with Mr. Blumenthal?
MR KIRBY: The State Department is not taking a position on her friendship with Mr. Blumenthal.
QUESTION: But I mean, she was asked not to from the White House – not to hire Mr. Blumenthal, not to coordinate activities with him, yet before her trip to Germany in November of 2009, Mr. Blumenthal sent then-Secretary Clinton emails suggesting talking points, speeches for before she met with officials in Germany. Does that bother State Department officials to have this kind of outside interference, to have somebody, as Secretary Clinton said, massage his words into speeches?
MR KIRBY: I think Mrs. Clinton is best able to address her relationship with Mr. Blumenthal. The State Department is not going to take a position on that. As I said, again, to Ed's question earlier, it is inevitable in this town that senior leaders are going to be receiving all kinds of unsolicited advice and guidance. When I get done off the podium, I will probably have an email from my mother criticizing my performance today. I mean, it's just the way it works in this town. And I'm not defending anything here; I just think it's important to understand that that's the reality here in Washington.
QUESTION: And lastly, does it bother you in this building that instead of talking about – more about a shortfall in the World Food Program for Syria, that we're not talking about more global issues, that you're having to be a de facto spokesman for Hillary Clinton?
MR KIRBY: I don't find my – I'm Secretary Kerry's spokesman, and that's who I'm speaking for and I'm representing the State Department. And I think these are – look, these are fair questions to ask about. I can't answer them all simply because some of these questions go to Mrs. Clinton's leadership as Secretary of State and her relationships, and that would be inappropriate for me to speak to. But the process and how and why we're making these public and how we're communicating with the select committee – all of that's fair. And I mean, I'm – I've signed up for this job knowing that I have to answer for those kinds of questions. It doesn't bother me a bit.
That said, I do think that my comments at the outset about the World Food Program and the need of Syrian refugees and for donors to chip in and do their part – yes, that's important, and yes, I'd like to talk about that some more.
QUESTION: A few questions on the email. In terms of the information in there, is there some reason why information would be more sensitive today than it was six years ago?
MR KIRBY: Again, without – I'm not going to go into the specifics on these 25. I suspect that in each case it was a different judgment that rendered it now classified. Sometimes information is retrospectively looked at and rendered classified when it was sent just by virtue of an assessment by the intel community. And that could have been the case in some of these. I don't know. It doesn't mean that the transmission of it at the time necessarily violated laws. If it wasn't labeled as such, one would not know it was. Only in hindsight can you look back and say, well, gee, that probably should have been, and maybe the originator – maybe the crafter should have known that.
It is also true at times, because the national security environment is so dynamic and changes so much over time, that over the passage of time and with events – with the benefit of hindsight – you can say, "Well, it wasn't classified then, and we can understand that. But given what's happened in that part of the world since then, we probably think it should be classified now." That's routine and we do that all the time.
QUESTION: And is it your understanding that all the records that were released yesterday came directly from the batch of 55,000 pages that the secretary provided to the department, or were any of them reconstructed from some other source of information?
MR KIRBY: No. All the documents that we made public last night came from the original batch that were provided by former Secretary Clinton, the 55,000 pages.
MR KIRBY: And that's – because that's part of this court order, right? We have to do a rolling production of those documents. This is the second tranche.
QUESTION: And one final question: Back in March before you were at this podium, someone else told us that there had been a request made to a number of former State Department officials beyond the secretaries – I think the number later turned out to be 10 – to return any emails that they might have in their possession or other records they might have in their possession. Do you know if any such records have been returned by any of the staffers that got that request from the State Department?
MR KIRBY: There was a request. As I understand it, those requests are still being processed. I don't have any update for you.
QUESTION: So some information has come in, or --
MR KIRBY: I just don't – I don't have the specifics on what has or hasn't come in, but I can verify that, yes, that request was made and as I understand it, it's being adjudicated by the individuals that it was sent to.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Egypt?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: The Egyptian Government announced a few days ago that the Secretary will be traveling to Cairo on the 28th to have the strategic dialogue with Egypt. Can you confirm that?
MR KIRBY: I'm not in a position to confirm the Secretary's travel schedule for July right now.
QUESTION: But are you expecting the strategic dialogue soon with the Egyptians?
MR KIRBY: Well, I know this is a dialogue that has been long planned and I believe the target is by the end of July, but I have no announcements on the Secretary's travel to make today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: John, can I also talk about – regarding the news today on Cuba.
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you maybe have an updated – any chance that – of when the Secretary could be planning to go to Havana?
MR KIRBY: No, I don't. I'm not – obviously, sometime this summer, but I don't have any more specificity today.
QUESTION: Is any of this being held up because of the Iran talks? Or --
MR KIRBY: Well, your question would sort of imply that it's being held up, and I don't know that I'd characterize it that way. You heard him today say this morning that he very much intends to be there for the formal opening of our embassy in Havana. He's very excited about that, and when we have something specific with respect to timing and schedule to announce, we'll do that.
QUESTION: What kind of tick-tock can you offer, John, about the decision to exchange letters today? We know that there were four rounds of negotiations between the U.S. and Cuban teams, and then there were a lot of lower-level meetings. What – how did we get to July 1st and this exchange of letters?
MR KIRBY: Well, I think you've actually kind of covered it in your question, Ros. I mean, there has been a series of rounds of discussions with the Cuban authorities at various levels, many of which included Assistant Secretary Jacobson and her team. But it was not just a State Department effort – obviously, joined in this effort by colleagues at the White House. So a series of discussions based on the President's decision that we were going to move forward on this policy shift.
And this – what you saw today was procedurally the – driven by the decision to notify Congress; the 15-day notification of the formal establishment of diplomatic relations, which will now occur, as you saw in the letter that the President sent himself on the – which will occur on the 20th. So --
QUESTION: But coming – yeah, but coming out of the fourth round of meetings that Assistant Secretary Jacobson had with Josefina Vidal and her delegation, there seemed to be some – I don't want to say hand-wringing, but there seemed to be some concern that some of the issues that reportedly included the ability of U.S. diplomats to be able to travel freely and to meet freely with Cuban citizens, and some Cuban concerns about the status of the embargo, the status of Guantanamo Bay, the – and some other issues seemed to be making it a little stickier to get to this point. What changed between that fourth round and today?
MR KIRBY: I don't – I mean, that's probably a better question put to Assistant Secretary Jacobson. I wasn't party to those discussions. But I would tell you that it's not that there was one sort of sea change or one critical turning point here. This is, as you pointed out in your first question, a result of a series of discussions and negotiations that got us to this point. So I'm not aware of one sort of moment in time where everything pivoted on that. It was – this – these were very frank and candid discussions, and I think as we've all pointed out, I mean, there are still areas where we don't share the same views on issues. But there are many issues that we can and will share interests and cooperation on.
So I can't point to one thing, but this really – this was a lot of hard spade work done by a lot of people on both sides.
QUESTION: And then going forward, Ambassador DeLaurentis is going to become the charge d'affaires down there. From a practical standpoint, given that there are already threats coming from Congress about possibly holding up an ambassadorial nomination, how well will the new embassy be able to function on a day-to-day basis versus having someone who was nominated by the President, approved by the Senate there as the President's representative in Havana? How – what's going to be the impact on that?
MR KIRBY: Well, Mr. DeLaurentis has been there for many years. He's got vast experience, incredibly talented diplomat, and Secretary Kerry has all the confidence in the world that he'll be able to act in full capacity as charge d'affaires until an ambassador is named and confirmed. There's many steps between now and then, obviously, but I don't think anybody at all is concerned about his ability to act in the good faith of the U.S. Government down there.
QUESTION: Do you think that it could raise some concerns among the Cubans if there isn't a properly cleared and vetted ambassador who is there, the person that would be able to meet with President Castro or to meet with the interim foreign minister? Because there are some issues where you need the ambassador and not just the CDA.
MR KIRBY: Well, Mr. DeLaurentis has terrific relationships there. Again, we have full confidence – Secretary Kerry has full confidence in his ability to do the job of our top diplomat down there until such time as an ambassador is installed. And I think that everybody understands, including our Cuban counterparts, that the – this is new territory, and so the procedure of nominating and installing – getting confirmed an ambassador is going to take some time. But again, it's more important to get that process and get the right individual there than it is to try to act quickly, especially when you don't need to because you've got someone of his talent already in Havana.
QUESTION: And then finally, in light of the Human Rights Reports that were released last week, how does this building envision pressing the case on political repression, suppression of journalists and bloggers, random arrests of people for whatever reason, indefinite detentions? How is the U.S. anticipating that it's going to be able to push these human rights issues with Havana?
MR KIRBY: Well, we actually – these are issues that we – are still very important to us. And this policy shift, this re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, we believe will only make it that much better and easier for us to press our concerns in that regard. It's much easier to make a case when you can state a case, and you can state a case in a – far better when you have diplomatic relations. So I think we believe that this policy shift actually will assist in our efforts to address those concerns with Cuban authorities.
QUESTION: On Iran. First of all, how long is Secretary Kerry – is he planning to stay in Vienna until the 1st – until the 7th, rather?
MR KIRBY: I don't have, again, travel schedule information for the Secretary. He remains in Vienna, he remains engaged in these talks. It is – as I said yesterday, we could get a deal in two days, we could get a deal in five days, or we could get no deal. And the 7th is a technical extension of nothing more than the Joint Plan of Action agreements and parameters. It doesn't mean that the talks necessarily are extended to that particular date.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, also there's – I have a question about the role of sanctions relief, on billions of dollars in cash and also investment that's going to be happening, oil revenues that will be growing in – for Iran if there's a deal.
On Iran's foreign policy in the Middle East, Senator – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called – he wrote a letter yesterday calling for a pause in the talks, talking about how Iran is expanding its ballistic missile program, supporting Hizballah, Assad, Houthis in Yemen. He says that they pose a danger to Israel and the United States, and that entering into an agreement with Iran now would only make those problems worse.
Is that true? What's the Administration's, I guess, feeling on those – thinking on that, on how the money – specifically the money that Iran will get – is going to affect its foreign policy?
MR KIRBY: Well, we've all long said that whatever sanctions relief happen, it will happen around Iran's nuclear program – that other sanctions, whether they be terrorist – support for terrorists, terrorism, or for human rights concerns – will all stay in place. They have never been, nor will they be a party to this deal.
Yes, back in the back, Janne. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: So I'm sorry, I'm not quite done, I think. I mean, so is there concern in the State Department that the influx of cash will increase Iran's ability to engage in the – I think what the Administration calls destabilizing behavior in the Middle East – in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, and those type of places? Because, I mean, we're talking about billions of dollars more that they will have in their – to work with.
MR KIRBY: Our concerns about Iran's destabilizing activities in the region remain. That's why the sanctions related to those activities will remain, regardless of whether we get a deal or not. The discussions going on in Vienna are about Iran's nuclear program, and only about nuclear – only about Iran's nuclear program. So nothing has changed about the concerns about their support for terrorist networks in the region, their human rights record, or about their military program, their conventional military program – particularly, you mentioned missile defense. All those concerns remain, and as Secretary Kerry has said, that we're focused on this. Should we get a deal and should that deal be able to lead to movement on some of the other issues that we have with Iran, well, that's to the better. But right now, we're focused on the nuclear program --
QUESTION: How would --
MR KIRBY: -- making sure that they do not attain nuclear capability.
QUESTION: How would getting a deal help make progress on those other issues?
MR KIRBY: Well, I don't know. Again, it's a thought that perhaps if you've got movement in that area, perhaps there can be movement in other areas down the road. But that's not the focus right now. Again, we've made very clear – nobody's losing sight or draining focus from our concerns with Iran on a whole wide swath of other issues. All that remains.
QUESTION: A quick follow-on?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: In the last few days, a senior Administration official un-named was quoted as saying it would be unfair – in essence, it would be unfair to open all military installations for inspection inside Iran because we would not expect the same thing here in America. Do you share that view?
MR KIRBY: Well, what we've said all along, Lucas, is that what matters, I mean, is that the IAEA gets the access they need to verify Iran's compliance with the parameters set in Lausanne; that that access has to be – that has to be sufficient to provide the IAEA the verification that it needs. That will – that could very well and probably would include some military sites, but it's about making sure they have the access they need to verify. And I think the President was very clear about this yesterday, that without a strong, robust verification protocol, there's not going to be a deal.
QUESTION: But do you agree with the assessment that it's unrealistic to think that all their military sites could be available for inspection?
MR KIRBY: Well, the question would imply that every military site that they have somehow is related to their nuclear program.
QUESTION: Every suspected military site.
MR KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to speak for the IAEA here. They – it's clear that in this deal, inspectors need to have the access required to verify compliance wherever and whenever that access needs to be held. And that's been – from the very beginning, that's been our approach in this deal.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. Regarding about North Korean issue and Special Representative for the North Korean Policy Ambassador Sung Kim visit to South Korea recently, do you have anything on what he discussed and what is result of Six-Party Talks processings and stuff --
MR KIRBY: I don't. I'm afraid you're going to have to let me get back to you on that. Yeah.
QUESTION: And do you have idea? No?
MR KIRBY: I just – you're going to have to let me get back to you on that. I just don't.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Another subject? Another subject?
MR KIRBY: Sure.
QUESTION: Two questions, related questions. One, any comments that – China has brought up 50 countries to set up a new Asia bank, and – including many of them are U.S. close friends, including India, Germany, and other countries. You think this is a challenge to the U.S. and IMF and World Bank?
MR KIRBY: What bank are we talking about?
QUESTION: The new bank by China, $100 billion bank China has just established with 50 countries on board, they brought them --
MR KIRBY: Oh, oh, the --
QUESTION: Asia --
MR KIRBY: -- Infrastructure Investment Bank?
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we've noted that China has expressed an interest in leading this effort. Obviously, other countries are deciding for themselves the degree to which that they want to participate in this. What's, I think, important for us is – and we – this was part of the discussion that we had with the Chinese when they were here last week – is that we welcome the rise of a peaceful, prosperous China; a China that contributes to stability and security, which does include economic dimensions in the region. But the participation of other countries in this are obviously sovereign decisions they have to make. And we'll just – we'll see where it goes.
QUESTION: But what message do you have for those countries or especially their allies and friends of the U.S.? They had been dealing for the last 50 or more years with the IMF and World Bank and now this is a new challenge.
MR KIRBY: Well, all – I mean, again, these are sovereign decisions that these nations have to make. It's our hope that the same sorts of – same sort of transparency and proper management and good stewardship that is exemplified by the IMF and the World Bank would be replicated in the AIIB.
QUESTION: And just a related question. As far as the Export and Import Bank in the U.S., has been playing a big role as far as Fortune 500 companies dealing and doing business overseas, including in India, a huge business and guarantor. Now it's in trouble in the Congress, sir. How much you think this has been helpful as far as diplomacy is concerned? How much do you think this will have a damage if Congress doesn't approve any more in the future as far as existence of Export-Import Bank?
MR KIRBY: I don't have much on that one. You're going to have to let me get back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR KIRBY: I've got time for just a couple more.
Yeah, in the back there.
QUESTION: Yes, two questions on Israel – clarifying the statement that you made yesterday about language in the TPA legislation on Israeli-controlled territories. Had you made your objections know prior to the amendment sort of sailing through? And also, there was a part that said that the U.S. Government doesn't defend or pursue policies that will legitimize settlement activity. Are – have you taken a position for or against boycott activities, the West Bank and Jerusalem there if you're not trying to legitimize settlement activity?
MR KIRBY: We've long – so a couple of things here. First, yes, we made our concerns known in the drafting process. Number two, nothing's changed about our policy of not supporting boycotts of the State of Israel.
QUESTION: Right, but this was saying that --
MR KIRBY: And nothing has changed about our policy – a policy longstanding for many, many years – of opposing Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines.
QUESTION: Can you talk about Yemen? The situation – the UN is saying you've got an emergency again and about a thousand prisoners, I believe, released. Sharp concerns about that? What can you say?
QUESTION: Yeah, I've seen – we've seen the reports about the – about these prisoners escaping. It's fresh information that I don't have a whole lot on – a lot on that. Obviously, if true, it is a concerning development. Don't know that we have a lot of fidelity on who they were, but clearly, I think we have reason to believe that some of them are at least related to terrorism.
But more broadly in Yemen, what we're really trying to drive at here is supporting the UN-led process for a political resolution. That's really the answer.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Just a minute. Are you aware of the Ukrainian delegation in town to meet with the IMF, and do they have any meetings planned with the State Department?
MR KIRBY: I'm – I don't have anything to read out to you, Ken, on that. I don't know but I can check.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR KIRBY: All right. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)
DPB # 115
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